Licences and registration

Boat driving licence

The speed at which a boat is driven determines whether a person needs to be licensed.

Anyone who is the master of a powered vessel operating recreationally on NSW waters at a speed of 10 knots (approximately 18.5km/h) or more must have a boat driving licence.

This is the speed at which most accelerating boats will start to plane or rise up and skim on top of the water instead of ploughing through it.

The exception is that anyone who drives a personal watercraft (PWC) at any speed must have a PWC licence.

A PWC is a vessel with a fully enclosed hull that may be driven standing up, lying down, sitting astride or kneeling, and includes jet powered surfboards.

Types of boat driving licences

There are two types of boat driving licence:

  • A general boat driving licence is required to drive any powered recreational vessel (other than a PWC) at 10 knots or more
  • A personal watercraft (PWC) driving licence is required to drive a PWC. A PWC licence also allows the holder to drive any other powered recreational vessel at 10 knots or more.

A person must be 12 years of age or older in order to hold a general boat or PWC driving licence. Restrictions apply to licence holders under 16 years of age.

    See the Licence section for more detailed information.

    Licence period

    A general boat driving licence or PWC driving licence is available for one, three, five or 10 years.

    Licences are initially issued as a paper licence, followed by a plastic card.

    Obtaining a boat driving licence

    To obtain an initial general boat or PWC driving licence, applicants must:

    See Applying for a general boat driving licence or PWC licence for more detailed information.

    Proof of identity (POI)

    To ensure the accuracy of records, applicants must provide acceptable proof of identity (POI) when conducting a business transaction.

    Combined driver/boat/PWC licence

    Roads and Maritime customers are now able to combine their NSW driver licence and general boat driving or PWC driving licence onto one card. See Combined licences for more information.

    Boat registration

    A person must be at least 16 years of age to register a vessel in NSW. The following vessels must be registered in NSW when used on NSW navigable waters:

    • Power-driven vessels that are powered by an engine with a power rating of 4.0 kilowatts (kW) or more (as a guide, 4.0kW is approximately 5.3 horsepower)
    • Any power-driven or sailing vessel of 5.5 metres or longer
    • Every vessel subject to a mooring licence or marina berth
    • PWC.

    See Get a NSW registration for more detailed information.

    Transfer of registration

    On sale of a registered vessel, the seller must complete the transfer and notice of disposal sections of the registration certificate and forward the notice of disposal to Roads and Maritime within 14 days.

    The transfer section must be given to the buyer, who must apply for transfer within 14 days of the date of purchase, otherwise penalties may apply.

    See Transfer your registration for more detailed information.

    Registration numbers

    The owner of a registered vessel must ensure their registration number is displayed at all times on both sides of the hull, in figures at least 150 millimetres high (100 millimetres for PWC and sailing vessels).

    See Registration number, safety label and builders plate for more detailed information.

    Registration labels

    From 1 July 2016 registered vessels are no longer required to display registration labels. See Maritime Registration Frequently Asked Questions for more information.

    See Registration number, safety label and builders plate for more detailed information.

    Australian Builders Plate (ABP)

    Most vessels built from 1 July 2006, including imported vessels, must have an Australian Builders Plate (ABP) affixed prior to initial registration.

    See Registration number, safety label and builders plate for more detailed information.

    Hull Identification Number (HIN)

    The Hull Identification Number (HIN) system or Boatcode assists with vessel identification through the affixing of a unique identification number.

    See HIN and Boatcode for more detailed information.

    Using a vessel commercially

    Domestic commercial vessels are now regulated by the Australian Maritime Safety Authority (AMSA) under a National System that commenced on 1 July 2013.

    Roads and Maritime acts as a National System delegate for AMSA and continues to provide functions and services for domestic commercial vessels. Roads and Maritime continues to manage commercial vessel certification in NSW on behalf of AMSA.

    See Commercial vessels for more detailed information.

    Hire and drive operations

    The term 'hire and drive' applies to a vessel that is made available to the public for hire for recreational use. Categories include:

    • Powered vessels less than 7.5 metres in length, including 'tinnies' and PWC
    • Passive (unpowered) vessels less than 10 metres in length such as a rowboat, canoe, kayak, pedalcraft, inflatable, sailboard, catamaran or sailing vessel
    • Offshore sailing and powered vessels less than 24 metres
    • Traditional houseboats and motorboats with a potential speed less than 10 knots and fitted with overnight accommodation.

    A national certificate of operation is required to ensure that hire and drive vessels are of a suitable standard and that hire operators follow appropriate and consistent procedures before hiring a vessel to a member of the public.

    People hiring a vessel must observe the marine regulations and safety requirements at all times. In particular, hirers must comply with NSW requirements for carrying and wearing lifejackets.

    See Hire and drive for more detailed information.

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